Wednesday, 26 August 2015

13 Netflix tricks you need to know

Chris Bell in The Telegraph

1. Watch stuff from the US

First it was thicker hamburgers, then cheaper cars. And now Americans get a superior Netflix service too - with our transatlantic cousins getting newer TV shows and a far broader range of movies. You can circumvent these regional restrictions on the UK service, however, by using a network service like Media Hint. It only works on computers – but for around £2.50 a month (or £25 a year) it will allow you to access Netflix in other countries too. An alternative free option which does the same thing is the Hola unblocker browser plugin, which works with Chrome, Firefox or the Android OS (although some reports suggest it is secretly selling users' bandwidth to hackers). Either way, be warned: accessing Netflix in other countries is a violation of your user agreement, so attempt at your own risk.

If you want to access US Netflix via your Xbox, PlayStation, Apple TV or iPad, then it’s fractionally fiddlier- in that you’ll need to manually change your DNS settings to fool your system into believing you are based elsewhere. On an Apple TV, for example, go into your Settings, go to General, then Network. Select your Network Name, then select Configure DNS, and Manual. From there, enter a new DNS code – these are subject to change, but Netflix Fixer posts regular updates about valid codes, as does Droidkit. If these free ones fail to work, or you don't like the sound of it, then try a paid-for service such as Unblock Us, which does the same for $4.99 (£3.20) a month (there’s also a free trial). But again, be aware you’re violating your service agreement.

2. Kill the buffering – via the secret menu

Is Walter White pixellating before your very eyes? Is Frank Underwood buffering continuously? Netflix is supposed to automatically calibrate your streaming depending on your connection – but you can bypass that via a secret settings menu. On a computer, just click on any video while pressing Shift+Alt (Shift+Option+Click on a Mac), and under “Stream Manager” you can manually adjust the bandwidth usage. There is also an option to adjust how the audio and video synchronises, just in case the dialogue and actors’ mouth movements have parted company.

List: the 85 best movies on Netflix UK

3. Kill the buffering – via an even more secret menu

If you’re on a Smart TV, Blu-ray Player, or game console, you’ll need to reset your Netflix application. But oddly, this requires a code similar to the old Konami Code of videogaming lore. Launch Netflix, and on your controller or remote, press the following: Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, Up, Up, Up, Up. This brings up a secret debug menu of your general information (plus, if you're on Xbox, technical information such as AV stats, a frame rate counter, a log and so on). Tweak the settings from here, or take the option to deactivate then relaunch the app – allowing you to change the settings and eliminate the buffering.

4. Check your resolutions

Knowing how to stream movies in HD only matters if you're actually getting HD. So check what you’re actually watching by going to Your Account page. Select Playback Settings, and under Data Usage, select High. Then click Save. But be warned: High Definition munches through data – so make sure it doesn’t devour your allowance.

5. Choose your viewing time carefully

According to Digital Trends, one factor influences video quality above all others: the time of day - whether that time falls under typical peak hours when everyone else is watching and clogging the system. “Getting HD (720p) at 9 in the evening, for example, was next to impossible,” they reported, “let alone 1080p Super HD.” Bingeing on Mad Men at 4am, therefore, will see better results – but then, you knew that already.

6. Avoid spoilers and other irritants

Netflix pet hates: everyone has them. But now, chances are, they’ll be sorted out by Flixplus – a worthwhile Chrome browser extension created by the Lifehacker website team specifically to root out all the annoying Netlfix features. Among the 18 tweaks it offers, Flixplus can hide potential spoiler images and text snippets, remove duplicate recommendations, disable that irritating Facebook integration prompt and even show IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes ratings. And it has just been updated to cope with the new Netflix menu system. Get it here.

7. Stream better by setting up a VPN

This trick originated in the US – where some broadband providers have been accused of “choking off” data at peak times, so the video quality of services like Netlfix plummets. But Virtual Private Networks may yet prove useful in the UK as video streaming gets more popular. In short, by connecting via a remote network, they allow you to circumnavigate any gateway your ISP (Internet Service Provider) may have imposed – ensuring connections speeds that are, in some cases, 10x faster than normal. But it does require some technical expertise – a step-by-step guide can be found here.

8. Make the subtitles legible

Oh, Netflix minions: for all the work you put in to adding accurate subtitles, you then dash it all by making the typeface too small, or the text colour too light, for you to read easily. Changing the default yellow sans-serif font is easy, however - go to Your Account then, under Your Profile, select Subtitle Appearance. In the pop-up box, change and preview until you're satisfied.

9. Use Keystroke Shortcuts

Streaming from your laptop or computer? Let your fingers do the navigating for precise, easy control. Hit Spacebar or Enter keys to pause/play. ‘PgDn’ also pauses, while ‘PgUp’ plays. F enables full-screen viewing, while Esc takes you out of it. Hold Shift and the Left Arrow to rewind, while Shift and the Right Arrow fast-forwards. Up and Down Arrows change volume, while M toggles for mute.

10. Access the Apple TV “bonus” features

If you’re watching via Apple’s little black hockey puck of delight, then try hitting the Up arrow twice on its remote while viewing – it brings up a banner with a thumbnail image, description, and rating. Pressing down is more useful though: it brings up a progress bar, notched with chapters. And if you hit the left or right arrow you can leap forward or back 2–6 minutes depending on the length of the title.

11. Watch Netflix with friends - anywhere

Desperate to share your theory on why Claire Underwood is the real brutal epicentre of House Of Cards? Try Rabbit, a group chat service which, unlike similar services like Google Hangouts, allows you to launch a window where you and your other “guests” can watch and discuss Netflix together. Or, indeed, anything you’re watching through a browser – YouTube, Hulu, badger webcams and so on. It also means only one of you needs a Netflix account, although the legality of doing this is what lawyers might describe as “murky”.
Credit: The Netflix app Rabbit

12. Access Netflix’s internal catalogue

While your viewing habits – and more specifically, the ratings you give programmes – teach the Netflix algorithms what to suggest on your listings, sometimes you’re just in the mood for… a Critically-acclaimed Understated French Drama. We all do. Instead of painstakingly searching out such a creature, however, Netflix have helpfully, but secretly, created a vast number of category IDs that you simply type into the search bar instead. These enable quick access to broad groups like Cult TV Shows (74652) or esoteric listings like Visually-striking Martial Arts Movies (3196). Luckily, you can find updated ID lists here and here. Those French dramas, by the way, are under 3949.

13. Improve your viewing choices

Paralysed by the sheer choice on offer? Netflix’s built-in star rating offers a rough guide as to the quality of the movie/show – but when you really need the wisdom of a larger crowd, try the Chrome extension Netflix Enhancer. The recently-revised tool allows you to see a film's Rotten Tomatoes score as well as its IMDb rating – not to mention access to other IMDb content as well as any trailers. Still indecisive? Try Netflix Roulette. Put in an actor, a genre, or another determining factor, and hey - who knows what you’ll end up watching.

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